Step foot onto the island paradise of Skully, a place untouched by man, ruled by four deities in the middle of a rather aggressive sibling rivalry. You’ll get put in control of a disembodied skull, aptly named Skully, who is reanimated by Teddy, the oldest of the siblings. Teddy puts Skully in a magical clay mound that grants this boney hero a second lease at “life”. And not long after, Teddy recruits Skully to help put an end to the fighting that threatens to destroy the island he calls home.
Skully is a physics-based platformer that mixes a combination of playstyles to create a unique game with a fun story that takes place over the course of 18 chapters. The premise starts simple enough: Skully must roll around the island and make it past the obstacles that stand between Teddy and his siblings. The mechanics of rolling around are done incredibly well, with both momentum and gravity affecting how Skully can move. The controls are easy to pick up and come naturally, so it won’t be long before Skully starts making some real progress.
There are a variety of obstacles to overcome from perilous pathways to blocked off passages. Water is also dangerous and will quickly put an end to Skully’s antics if caught in it. Magical life-giving clay can still get washed off with a good bath so take care to avoid the puddles.
There are checkpoints scattered throughout the levels, in the form of the same clay mounds that helped to animate Skully. Rolling across these mounds will save the game and by using the left trigger Skully will sink into these clay mounds and heal back up to full health. Periodically throughout the game, Teddy will make the observation that some of the clay mounds look a bit different and tells Skully to check them out… because you’ll probably be fine.
It turns out you’ll be more than fine as this is when the game introduces its more unique element. Skully will gain access to clay forms and new abilities every time he comes across one of these extra magical mounds. The first of which is a golem-like form that will let Skully destroy large rock walls and tip over rocks to form bridges to get around the island. It also grants Skully the ability to fight the monsters that started to take over the island.
There are a total of three forms that will be unlocked, each with their own unique playstyle that will evolve and change as the story progresses. The second form brings the ability for Skully to run at incredible speeds to clear wide jumps and move platforms horizontally around levels. While the third form lets him double jump and lift platforms vertically. Up to three of these forms can be summoned at a time and in any combination. In later levels Skully will need to take advantage of multiple abilities at one time to progress further, mixing and matching in order to solve puzzles.
As mentioned earlier, new abilities will be unlocked in later levels and, while it won’t come up until the last few chapters of the game, one of the most interesting abilities Skully gets is the ability to make platforms move back and forth in predetermined paths. I can’t think of another platformer that lets the player take advantage of these kinds of mechanics so freely which is why I think it would be a shame not to mention it.
There are really only a couple of negatives I came across during my time with Skully. The first is that in the confrontation with Wanda, the water elemental sibling, Wanda will send a giant wave at Skully that you’ll need to outrun. During this segment of the game the screen shifts to a fixed camera perspective and the water will show at the bottom of the screen. The camera will stay in this overhead position as Skully tries to outrun it. The water, and therefore the camera, will also ramp up in speed if Skully gets too far ahead, making it hard to follow all of the elements on the screen.
This happens a few times throughout the game and I think it could’ve been done better. In fact, it is done better.
To elaborate, each sibling has their own inner chamber that is themed after the siblings’ personality and element. Fiona, the fire elemental sibling, has a chamber full of lava and once Skully winds up there it is revealed that the lava goes up. This leads to Skully frantically scaling up the chamber while trying to outrun the lava. This segment follows the same principles as Wanda’s encounter but doesn’t shift to a fixed camera perspective and is one of my favorite parts of the game. It’s a great challenge and I really wish the development team at Finish Line Games would’ve created the other sections the same way.
The second real negative is that the game can be beaten pretty quickly; it took me around 6 hours to get through the story. There are collectibles that take the form of flowers scattered throughout the levels that will unlock concept art from Skully’s development, and if you take the time to gather these the game will take much longer to get through. But it’s also possible to completely ignore them.
As a side note, these collectibles need to be regathered if Skully dies before reaching a checkpoint, and this is something which can become tedious.
The story itself is enjoyable though. The voice acting is done well and the plot, while nothing groundbreaking, is a well-executed story that anyone with siblings should be able to relate to, at least on some level. The mainly humorous and light-hearted theme manages to explore some more serious tones as things develop, and it’s worth playing the game through to its conclusion. The cutscenes are done in a frame by frame format that caught me off guard at first but I quickly got used to it. Skully also manages to show quite a bit of personality for a disembodied skull that can’t talk.
I don’t want to say much more about the story beyond what I’ve mentioned because it really is better left experienced for yourself. But as I’ve said, Skully on Xbox One is a fun game with creative elements, and if you love platformers and want to try something new, then Skully is worth checking out.